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Stepping Up: The 2017 GC Compensation Survey

Stephanie Forshee corpcounsel.com

Pay packages are growing for some of the best compensated legal department leaders in the land, according to Corporate Counsel's 2017 General Counsel Compensation Survey. It's a sign that as GCs grow in strategic importance to their companies, remuneration can grow as well. The report also revealed there's also a new compensation champion in town.

In this year's report, a female is at the No. 1 spot on the list of the 100 highest-paid general counsel. She topped the list once before, six years ago, and is the only woman to have made it to the top since ALM Legal Intelligence, a Corporate Counsel affiliate, began compiling the report in 1994.

Still, it isn't exactly evident from the rankings that this year was a win for women overall. Only one other woman appeared in the top 10. Twenty-four percent of the list this year is comprised of women. That's an increase from 19 percent a year ago, but some industry observers had expected this year's percentage to be higher.

Tobacco giant Altria Group Inc.'s Denise Keane, who retired from the company June 30, now sits atop our ranking of the highest-paid general counsel. She brought in more than $9 million in total cash, including base salary and bonus, in fiscal year 2016, according to the report.

Our rankings are based only on cash compensation, which includes salary, bonus and nonequity compensation. They do not include options and other equity compensation. ALM Intelligence used publicly available information from 2016 proxy filings to obtain data for the report. (For more details, see "Where We Get Our Numbers," page 53.)

Lee Udelsman, managing partner of the in-house practice at legal recruiting consultancy Major, Lindsey & Africa, says he was expecting more female representation on the list. "Our clients and companies are using the general counsel role as an opportunity to inject diversity into the C-suite, including gender," he says. "We know there are many qualified women who are able to serve as general counsel, and so I would have thought there would have been a higher concentration of women in the Top 100."

This represents a broader trend, says Udelsman. "The GC role is being embraced as part of the leadership team and their sphere of influence has really expanded," he says. "Compensation reflects that and has continued to rise over the past five, six, seven years."

Corporate Counsel's data demonstrates this pattern. Average total cash compensation for GCs grew 3 percent in 2016 to north of $2.1 million, compared with an average of nearly $2.06 million the year prior. Compensation grew 21.9 percent from 2011, when the average total cash payout for lawyers on the list was about $1.74 million.


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